When I was a schoolboy, I remember my group of friends proudly counting how many anonymous Valentine’s cards they had received. After a forensic examination of handwriting, we soon discovered that the ‘Jack the Lad’ who had boasted the most had sent most or all of them to himself!
The card, flower and chocolate sellers make a good profit from St Valentine. But what or who is behind it all? St Valentine was a priest or bishop in Terni who was martyred in Rome under
Emperor Claudius Gothicus for his Christian faith. Since 1835 his body has been buried in Dublin. No-one seems to know why this rather obscure third century Italian bishop’s name became linked to lovers or courting couples. But there is a belief that the birds of the air are supposed to pair on 14 February – a belief as least as old as Chaucer. And the custom of choosing and calling oneself a Valentine is as least as old as the Paston Letters, a collection of manuscripts written about life in England between 1422 and 1509. There was also the Roman Lupercalia Festival, which took place in the middle of February each year. Whatever the connection with St Valentine, he has boosted our economy. In London the price of red roses triples this week! Probably here in Copenhagen too.
As a parish priest, one of the most special things I do is preparing couples for marriage, and then officiating at their wedding. In this world so much is short-term and temporary and fast, from employment contracts to fast-food. We cast away furniture that looks slightly outdated. We trade in our cars for the latest model. It is an incredible thing, and counter-cultural too, when two people come together in public and promise “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death do us part”. These words are so powerful that many weep. A shiver always goes down my neck. When I lived in South London the word “whatever” was a popular expression with young people. It doesn’t really mean anything in particular, but in a way it sums up the staying power behind a long-term committed relationship in which we promise to love and cherish each other, whatever comes along.
This week I will officiate at the funeral of a special lady who was married for 55 years. Such commitment and strength of relationship, in my view, makes the world a better place. And I salute them.
So whatever you receive on Valentine’s Day – whether it be flowers, chocolates, cards, a special meal, or just a night in by the fire watching Big Brother – give thanks for love. It makes the world go round.
There is a special St Valentine’s Day service for couples this Sunday at 16:00 at St Alban’s Church, Churchillparken 11, Cph K. All are welcome.